University of Miami coach Jim Larranaga admittedly isn’t much of a chef. When his wife goes out of town, he orders prepared food to be delivered to their house. But after 30 years coaching college basketball, he does know a half-baked team when he sees one.
He warns that the 2016-17 Hurricanes could use more seasoning before playing their home opener Friday night against Western Carolina. Miami is rebuilding after losing three key players – Angel Rodriguez, Sheldon McClellan and Tonye Jekiri – from last season’s Sweet 16 team.
“Right now we’re a little raw; we need to cook a little bit more,” Larranaga said. “We don’t have smoothness in anything we do, offensively or defensively. I’d like to think our veterans are much smoother, but because of the transition of Ja’Quan Newton from combo guard to full time point guard, that’s really challenging for him, a little more challenging than I anticipated.”
The coach is “very, very pleased” with the play of seniors Davon Reed and Kamari Murphy, and sophomore Anthony “Amp” Lawrence; but says the younger players still have much work to do. The roster includes four freshmen. The Canes were picked to finish ninth in the ACC.
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“The five guys coming in off the bench all show glimpses of being able to contribute at a high level, but they’re just glimpses,” Larranaga said. “They’re not consistent.”
Sophomore center Ebuka Izundu is being asked to play a much bigger role, as the other options in the post are 7-0 freshman Rodney Miller and 6-11 freshman Dewan Huell, who is more of a forward. Miller and Huell have been working hard in the weight room. Miller is trying to get more fit, and Huell is trying to bulk up. He weighs 228 lbs. and wants to reach 240.
Huell is a much-hyped recruit from Miami Norland High, and eager to prove himself. He has been loading up on shakes and pasta. The shrimp pasta alfredo at the Big Cheese is one of his go-to dishes, and he also likes Greenstreet Café in Coconut Grove.
“I’ve been eating five, six, seven meals a day, lots of shakes,” said Huell. “There were a lot of short guys in high school. But in college, everyone is big and strong.’’
Huell is also maturing off the court. He was arrested Sept. 14 on the FIU campus after scuffling with a man he found in his ex-girlfriend’s dorm room. Larranaga decided not to suspend him, but has been meeting with him regularly and advising him on how to conduct himself.
“Coach L is real cool, like the granddad you want to have,” Huell said. “He’s teaching me about becoming a man off the court, making the right decisions. After my incident, I thought I would get suspended or kicked off the team, but Coach L just met with me, made me tell him the truth, and he explained that I’m held to higher standings and have to behave a certain way.”
Meanwhile, charismatic Australian guard Dejan “DJ” Vasiljevic has blended in well, and fielded teammates’ questions about kangaroos and sharks they see on the National Geographic channel.
“Absolutely great kid, can really, really shot,” Larranaga said. “I told him he reminds me of me. Really good offensive player, doesn’t play much D. He really tries, but now he’s guarding a very different kind of player, very quick, jumps very high, very skilled. He hasn’t faced that kind of athlete on a regular basis.”
Bruce Brown, a 6-5 guard from Boston, is “the most physically ready” of the freshmen to make an immediate impact, Larranaga said. He will be counted on to play multiple positions. “He weighs 200, benches 300, has some very good ball skills. He has a chance to be very, very good right away, but there are parts of his game that need attention, too. We have a lot of wrinkles to iron out.”